Iron Man (Tony Stark) has gone from an alcoholic chauvinistic arms merchant to a philanthropic billionaire.
Marvel didn’t expect Iron Man to become such a beloved character.
In fact, they didn’t expect him to become a beloved character at all. More surprising than that, he was designed to be annoying and irritating. At the time, Marvel believed that most of their fans were free-spirited hippies, and Iron Man was created as a billionaire arms dealer just to mess with them.
Now, over 50 years later, Iron Man is one of the most recognisable and beloved Marvel characters in history.
Iron Man: A Brief Overview
Born into an incredibly wealthy family who’d made their money designing and selling weapons to the American military, Tony Stark would find that he had gift for engineering – especially when it came to electronic devices.
He created a suit of electronic armour, and took to the streets (and skies) as the superhero, Iron Man.
After his father died, he inherited the family company. Eventually, he decided to stop selling weapons and focus on providing other types of technology instead.
Iron Man: Origins
While demonstrating his latest scientific advancements in weapon technology, Stark was kidnapped by terrorists.
He was forced to create weapons for his captors – or so they thought. During his kidnapping, Stark had been blasted in the chest with shrapnel, and some of the shrapnel was making its way toward his heart. Stark, being a electronics genius, used the weapon parts to create a life-saving device which would keep the shrapnel away from his heart.
It also doubled as a handy power-source, so Stark came up with the idea of making a suit of armour.
He used the armour to escape his captors. When he made it back home, he tweaked his design to incorporate the superior components that he now had access to.
Over the years, Stark has made many adjustments to his armour, and even regularly creates entirely new models.
Iron Man: Powers
Similar to DC’s Batman, Stark doesn’t actually have any superpowers – unless you consider a genius-level intellect to be a superpower.
Iron Man: Equipment
There are literally hundreds of Iron Man armours, all with various (and often different) capabilities and components.
For example, he has armour specifically designed for both space and deep-sea diving. However, there’s a few things that most armours have in common.
When in the armour, Stark effectively has superhuman strength and durability (toughness). Most suits also allow him to fly and shoot lasers.
Stark seems to prefer two particular suit-based weapons: Repulsors (which he shoots from the palm of his gauntlets), and the Unibeam (which comes from the power-source, meaning it shoots from his chest).
The suits are also often covered with various materials which give him radar stealth (and sometimes actual stealth as well) and protection against certain kinds of damage (such as lasers or electrical damage).
Possibly due to his history with them, he tends not to use conventional weapons (such as bullets or rockets). When he does outfit a suit with them, he tends to use non-lethal or concussive versions of them. One version of the Iron Man armour (named the War Machine armour) does use conventional weapons, but Stark rarely uses it – it was mostly used (and was owned for a time) by his friend James Rhodes.
Iron Man: Allies
Iron Man was one of the founding members of the Avengers, and was even part of the Illuminati at one point.
He had a long-term romance with his personal assistant, Pepper Potts, and even created a weaponless suit of armour for her so she could become the superhero known as ‘Rescue’.
His oldest friendship is probably with James Rhodes, who also filled in as Iron Man while Tony was going through one of his many alcoholic phases.
Iron Man: Rogues Gallery
Iron Man’s archenemesis is a mystic villain named Mandarin.
As an Avenger, Iron Man can also count their many foes (Hydra, A.I.M., The Skrull Empire) among his own.
His toughest battle, however, was his battle against alcoholism – which he thankfully won.
Iron Man: Common Themes
Many of the stories from the 1970s to the 1990s dealt with the theme of alcoholism.
Beyond this, Iron Man stories tend to deal with issues revolving around ethical usage of technology, the importance of inter-personal relationships, and the meaning of legacy.
Strangely, Iron Man could also be considered a cyberpunk hero. Cyberpunk is a genre in which people use digital technology in order to survive in a technological dystopia, or even to fight against such a society.
Given that Iron Man turned away from his father’s weapon-making legacy and often uses his suit to hack into computer systems (and also once his own body) for the betterment of humanity, this means that Iron Man also deals with cyberpunk-related themes.
Iron Man: Cultural Impact
Iron Man is often considered the first mainstream comic to deal with a mature theme (alcoholism) in a meaningful and serious manner.
This gave the comic industry a certain level of gravitas, and allowed non-comic fans to understand the appeal of comics. Just because comics are primarily told through pictures, that doesn’t mean they’re simple.
Further, until the success of the first Iron Man film, superhero films were considered risky at best.
The great reception of the first Iron Man film is also responsible for the current run of superhero media – especially the Marvel Cinematic Universe – because it showed everyone (fans, creators, investors) that the world was ready for superhero movies.